Is history is set to repeat? | Three Things Thursday

Unite America

I hope you had a safe and pleasant holiday, despite the restrictions. 

It’s a tough time for everyone, but we’re almost through. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, Americans faced similarly challenging times. In fact, there are a lot of similarities to be found between American society in 1918 and our country today (... but more on that below).

Here are three things we found interesting this week:

1. History is set to repeat

In the early 20th century, Americans were facing a nation that was full of social divisions, economic inequality, and corruption. Sound familiar? Dissatisfied with the status quo in which party bosses put their own interests above those as the voters, Americans got to work. State by state, victory by victory, reform by reform. The results are a lot of elements of our political system we take for granted now. 

From women’s suffrage to the direct election of our senators (voters didn’t used to choose our senators) the Progressive Era was full of reforms that passed at the state and federal levels that fundamentally transformed the way our politics work -- and who politicians were representing. In a new video we released this week, we can see clearly: history is set to repeat. 

The victories in Alaska and Virginia earlier this November show how we’re on the precipice of a new era of reform. Movements tend to happen quickly, then all at once. We’re just getting started. Are you ready to join?

2. How do we define America’s identity 

The 2020 election was about more than who would become president - it was the nation fighting to discover who we are. A large question remains: who is America and who do we want to be? As Aspen Institute’s Ashley Quarcoo and Caroline Hopper argue, we need to stop avoiding the questions about America’s identity and face this issue head on. America has a shared history, but we lack a common story about this history. The nation’s polarization is rooted in who we have been and beliefs on what we should be - both sides are trying to enact their versions of America. Between polarization, COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the election, the argument of America’s identity is growing and violence is on the rise. 

Politicians are looking at fundamental changes to the nature of our political and economic system; who has a voice, who is a citizen, or who is even allowed across our borders. In this uncertainty, the nation must ask: how do we build a more inclusive society? In order to reunite our country, we must reunite our narrative and ask ourselves some key questions. As the authors put it, “And we must knit this fuller understanding of our past with a vision of the future and of how we want to live in relationship with each other. What do we want the idea of America to be for the next generation? And how do we realize this idea?”


  1. Civics education is sorely missed

If your Thanksgiving was somehow somewhat normal, you might have been subject to endless conversations about politics with your family. While your first instinct might be annoyance, you should take a moment to be grateful-- and not just because that’s the spirit of the holiday. For better or worse, the last four years have been a crash course in civics for the nation. If we didn’t know before, now everyone has an opinion about the electoral college, equal representation of the Senate, and the Supreme Court. This sort of political dialogue -- and political education -- has been sorely missing for many years, as civics classes grow increasingly less popular. 

“A democratic society has to equip itself with civic strength by offering its rising generation an education that inspires their commitment to constitutional democracy and equips them with the knowledge and skills needed to sustain self-government for free and equal citizens,” author (and Unite America advisor) Danielle Allen writes, “We haven’t been paying for civic education for some time, and it shows.”

An educated public is the first step in having an educated electorate, which is the first step in ensuring that we have educated leaders, and a government that’s capable of doing what’s best. As Allen points out, civics is one of the biggest lessons we should take away from this administration. 

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